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Social networks: a new window for abuse

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Sexy Baby shows how the digital age has made sex ubiquitous.

Cape Town - Gone are the days when bullying was restricted to the playground during break, or the locker room before class. Instead, the rise of social networks has created a new type of bully – the cyber bully.

The Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention (CJCP) has found one in three pupils have fallen victim to cyber bullying. Outside school, that figure spirals to 42 percent.

Childline national co-ordinator Joan van Niekerk said cyber bullying was an ongoing problem.

In the event of hurtful remarks and comments, the perpetrators were usually girls. For boys, they got more involved in sexual cyber bullying.

“We have had incidents reported in every province, across cultures and language groups. It appears that the cellphone and access to the internet has opened up a whole new window for abuse,” she said.

The issue, which has been blamed for the recent suicide of Canadian teen Amanda Todd, made headlines across the world after the 15-year-old hanged herself, following a shocking cyber bullying campaign.

Just weeks previously, she had posted a harrowing video on YouTube revealing her battle with internet bullies.

Twitter is particularly known for its harsh, bullying environment, often going far beyond harmless banter to serious defamatory statements and conduct. These fights often involve an exchange of harsh words between celebrities and popular twitter personalities, known as “twelebrities”.

A twelebrity, known by his Twitter handle “Tokyotrev” and commonly labelled a Twitter bully, told Weekend Argus he thought the accusation was “a little harsh”.

“I think of myself as a social commentator. I just see the funny side of any situation.”

The 22-year-old IT graduate from Johannesburg, whose real name is Trevor Ngwenya, has been featured in the media several times for his behaviour on the social network.

Blocked by many local and international celebrities, including media mogul Bonang Matheba and award-winning singer Trey Songs for his statements and commentary, Ngwenya has been at the core of many scandals.

“I’ve said a couple of things to well-known celebrities. I say stuff people are thinking, but not brave enough to say,” he explained.

The social network personality added that his tweets were all “for a good laugh”.

Rejecting the title of cyber bully, Ngwenya believes he should rather be labelled a comedian.

“A cyber bully is person who goes on these social networks and makes it their mission to stir up drama.

“I agree that sometimes people may think my jokes are in bad taste. But you can’t please everyone,” Ngwenya said.

Africa’s largest social network, MXit, has partnered with Childline, to ensure user safety on their social network. The social network openly addresses the issue, offering free counselling services for any child victim of cyber bullying.

Cyber bullying on the social network can also be reported directly to MXit via their e-mail address support@mxit.com.

Cases among the youth can also be reported directly to Childline.

“We look at the specific child, situation, support systems, the child’s context, and respond with an individual plan for each child,” Van Niekerk said, adding that protection from further harm was the first priority.

“We also try to ensure that the person doing the bullying is assisted as well – children who bully have their own unmet challenges,” she added. - Weekend Argus

Exploring sexuality in an online age

Girls as young as 12 who are posting images of themselves online wearing lingerie, because they want to “feel sexy – like Megan Fox”, have become the subject of an award-winning new documentary.

Sexy Baby: A Documentary About Sexiness and The Cyber Age, which opened in US movie theatres recently, reveals how a generation of children now get their sex education from online porn, thanks to Facebook, smartphones and instant access to the internet.

Following three young women, between the ages of 12 and 34, the film sheds light on how technology and pornography are shaping the sexual identity of young girls, something the film-makers – former Miami Herald journalists Ronna Gradus and Jill Bauer – hope will be a “conversation starter” for parents.

The film, a first for the two women, had its world premiere earlier this year at the Tribeca Film Festival. It has been labelled “troubling” by parents, who agree it “brings up important topics that require mass discussion”.

Manhattan resident Winnifred, 12, features in the documentary and strives to emulate her musical idol, Lady Gaga, by wearing fishnet stockings and midriff-baring tops.

With her friend Olivia, she poses seductively for pictures and later posts the images online.

“Every girl wants to feel sexy – like Megan Fox,” Olivia told ABC News. But after she realised a photo had gone viral, she admitted: “I felt dirty afterwards.”

Laura, a 22-year-old kindergarten teacher from Alexandria, Virginia, is seen saving money to have vaginal plastic surgery to reduce the size of her labia – convinced it will change her life.

And Nichole, 34, a former stripper and pole dancer from of Clearwater, Florida, now wants to have a baby with her husband, who she met in the porn business.

The journalist and photographer duo say they were compelled to make the film after Gradus had witnessed an awkward scene between college students in a Coconut Grove, Florida, club.

She watched as girls writhed on poles and tried to attract the attention of their male friends who stuffed money in their bras, but seemed largely disinterested, as if what they were watching was par for the course.

Discussing it later, Gradus and Bauer concluded that this was most likely a symptom of the over-saturation of sex we are faced with in today’s society.

As they explained: “The film is not specifically about porn, it is about the new seismic shift – the fact that everything is at our fingertips all the time and available to everyone of all ages.

“And were especially interested in what this does to our perception of sexiness and sexuality.”

This revelation, that such erotic behaviour had become so banal, formed the basis of their research into how our shiny digital world has changed the way women and younger generations feel about it.

The documentary explores these themes as it follows the lives of three protagonists of what Gradus and Bauer refer to as Generation XXX.

While Winnifred, Laura and Nichole all inhabit a world in which “privates are public and extreme is the new norm”, their reactions to it are markedly different.

Laura, a sweet and seemingly impressionable young woman, explains why she chose to have an operation to reduce the size of her labia.

“I just figure, it would be huge turn on to a guy to look like a porn star,” she says.

The directors noted: “Laura clearly finds that there is a new standard of beauty which comes straight out of porn – her boyfriend compared her to the porn stars he watched on the internet.”

Bauer recalled how she and Gradus followed the young teacher as she partied with her friends, hoping to get a better sense of how she related to her body.

Bauer told Huffington Post: “There was an amateur night at the club, and I guess every couple of weeks they give away a boob job. Laura and her friends were all sitting around saying, ‘That’s so cool.’”

Gradus added: “There is not a lot of questioning that happens. Big boobs are the thing, being sexy is the thing, looking maybe a little more like a porn star is the thing, and she didn’t really question it. It was just sort of like, ‘I want to fit in and feel sexy.’”

On the other end of the spectrum is Winnifred, a savvy 12-year-old from New York who accepts that the Facebook and pop culture encourages an “anything goes” attitude, but when it comes to porn, is not that interested and has yet to really watch any.

“Your Facebook profile is not necessarily who your are, it’s more like who you want to be,” she explains to the camera. “We make ourselves seem like… down to f***. We make ourselves seem like we’re up for anything. And in a way all of this internet stuff kind of traps you. You’ve started an alter ego that has to be maintained and has to be real in a way.

“So yeah, I mean it does kind of shape how you end up and how you actually are in real life.”

But she confesses: “I guess I’m the kind of person who doesn’t have the guts and doesn’t really care enough to look at porn. I know what sex is, I don’t need to see it in front of me played out.”

The film-makers explained: “Winnifred represents the next generation and, simply put, is confused.

“She recently told us that she worries about her male peers who are getting their first glimpses of sex via hardcore pornography.”

For her part, Nichole, who Gradus and Bauer referred to as an “ironic moral compass”, blames the way the mainstream has been “completely infiltrated” by adult entertainment in the digital age and believes things have gotten out of hand.

Sexiness now, say the film-making duo is “more computer-focused, Facebook-focused.

“Instead of ‘I’m going to hit you on the playground because I’m telling you in my way that I like you,’ it’s ‘let me slap you silly because I saw it in porn.’”

In conclusion, they said: “Sexy seems to be the new pretty. Everything we see around us is reinforcing that this should be our focus.” – Daily Mail

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